Inside

Alison Rees

MPhil Ceramics & Glass

What did you study before coming to the RCA?

My BA was in Archaeology, which is quite a visual subject. At the time that I was doing it – I started in 1989 – hand-drawing was a very important skill. The course also had a strong analytical side. I loved looking closely at found objects, and working out what they could tell us. 

I left university in the middle of a recession, and worked in finance for a number of years. I first encountered ceramics during a part-time foundation course at Wimbledon College of Art, which I attended as a mature student. After that I studied ceramics for two years at City Lit.

Why did you apply to the RCA?

I was attracted to the RCA because of its reputation and its location, and the fact that it was a specifically postgraduate university. I wanted to be stimulated, and to receive critical feedback. I also wanted something to be revealed in the process of the MA that I didn’t know already, and that I wouldn’t get from being by myself in the studio.

What was the most important thing you took from your MA at the RCA?

Unexpectedly, it was writing. While I was studying here I found that I really liked storytelling, writing and research. My thesis was on Dorothy Annan’s mural Impressions of Telecommunications (1961), commissioned for the Fleet Building and recently moved to the Barbican estate. In my thesis, I traced the story behind the murals, and their relocation. 

That dissertation recently won the Design History Society’s Postgraduate Essay Prize – something that never would have happened if I hadn’t studied at the RCA, and hadn’t been able to discover something about myself. I found that writing enabled me to say something that I wasn’t saying in my work. I know now that I don’t want to do making in isolation, or writing in isolation, but rather both together.

Were there any particular challenges that you faced during your MA?

For me, the big challenge was working out what I wanted from the programme, and what my work was about. There were some students who arrived knowing exactly what they were doing. The challenge for me was presenting myself as someone with a coherent vision, when really everything was still very much in flux! Even at the end I knew I hadn’t quite reached a conclusion on that front.

Why did you decide to return to the RCA for your MPhil?

I wanted to continue the relationship that I had with my supervisors, and to continue exploring my joint writing-and-making practice. I’m now registered with both the School of Material, and the School of Humanities. Being jointly registered means that I get to meet researchers working in both Schools. 

I also have two supervisors: one from Ceramics & Glass  – Felicity Aylieff, who I worked with during my MA –  and Martina Margetts, who teaches in the School of Humanities and who supervised my MA thesis. I’m hoping the MPhil will lead directly into a PhD, but for now I’m enjoying taking the time to get to grips with my approach, and work out the ways in which the research might develop.

"That dissertation recently won the Design History Society’s Postgraduate Essay Prize – something that never would have happened if I hadn’t studied at the RCA, and hadn’t been able to discover something about myself."
Alison Rees
Alison Rees